Press for Secure Societies

Sapna K Sangra
What kind of societies are we envisaging for ourselves in future? And where do we see our children in those societies? Is it going to be the compartmentalised and walled urban and rural spaces restricting their natural growth in the name of safety or the open secure places where their imaginations can soar to greater heights developing them into their fullest selves?
While ‘Press for Progress’ is the slogan around which has been revolving the 2018 International Women’s Day (IWD) campaign; being a mother of the grown-up two, I press for secure and safe societies.
I am convinced for sure that I cannot restrict the social space of my children in the name of safety. For their natural growth and real experiences, I would like to make them use public transport, use Government hospitals, pick up grocery, cycle on the streets and play in the Muhallaha parks. I am sanguine, if not all; many parents must be holding the similar views but the issue of security of our children looms large, more so when they are out of the security of our own homes. Can we, therefore, jointly direct conscious efforts in making our communities better places for our future generations?
My concern for our children’s security arise from the two recent unfortunate incidents, quite similar in nature involving the abduction and rape followed by strangulation of two minor girls aged six and seven. Zainab, six years old girl from Kasur, near Lahore in Pakistan was on her way to Quran recital when she was abducted on 4 January 2018 and later found raped and murdered on 9 January 2018 which incited protests and outrage in her hometown Kasur, a border district renowned as the burial place of the legendary 17th century Sufi-poet Bulleh Shah.
Equally perturbing has been the incident of alleged rape and murder of an eight year-old girl in Kathua district. It’s difficult to let the image of AsifaBano off my mind. A lot has already been debated about the whole incident which has left the village and the surrounding region divided on communal lines. The incident raises certain issues that we, as a society need to be wary of.
Asifa was an eight year old girl who, as per her age, should have been studying in the 4th standard had she been admitted in the school at the right age. As per the facts gathered, she had never been admitted in the school though the nearest village Kootah which is nearly three kilometres away has a Government Girls’ High School and a Government Higher Secondary School. Infact, village Rassana where the incident took place is a part of Kootah panchayat in Hiranagar tehsil of Kathua district. Till 2016, Rassana had a Primary School which got merged with Government Girls’ High School Kootah for the lack of requisite number of students in the school. This means we still have a significant number of children who are not within the school and their chances of having better future prospects are not only bleak but negligible. Such children continue to be the part of the same rhetoric of poverty, generation after generation.
The fact that the victim was Bakkerwal, a Muslim community of nomadic grazers needs to be looked at from the perspective of marginalised communities in our so called developed societies. Even after 70 years of Independence having an elaborate system of constitutional safeguards protecting the rights of the marginalised communities with special provisions for their upliftment, we still have certain sections within our societies who have failed to benefit from the said provisions or we have failed to bring them within the ambit of those who have benefitted from the same having made miniscule changes in their lives. Around 20-odd Bakkerwal families live in the outskirts of the village Rassana and have constructed structures to be used in winters. These families still earn their living by rearing goats, sheep and horses. It may be recalled, in the absence of forests rights to tribal communities in J&K, around 12 Scheduled Tribe communities are facing hardships including evacuation from land on which they have settled by Forest and Revenue Department from time to time.
The issue of fixing responsibility of the parents needs to be addressed. How could the parents’ send their eight years old to graze the animals in the forests which are spread over several kilometres? The fact that the girl was a minor and quite incapable of taking care of her own security concerns fixes responsibility on the parents’ who, for whatever reasons, undermined the safety concern of their child. Their failure to provide secure environs to their child has to be fixed and this should be an eye opener for all parents irrespective of the place of stay or the communities we belong to. When it comes to the security of our children, even the trusted ones are not to be trusted. Irrespective of the thickness of the relation, any strange behaviour of any one with our child must alert us to take an appropriate action.
The girl went missing on the 10th of January and her body was found after seven days of massive hunt in the Rassana forest. In our every day hustle and bustle, we forget to take any social responsibility. We need to be concerned and vigil about the safety of our own children, rather, any child on the streets, in our own vicinity and neighbourhood is our joint responsibility as a member of civilized communities and societies. Whether asked for help or not, we need to rush to any child or for that matter anyone who is in need of help or may be in any uncomfortable situation.
The village and the surrounding region are seen getting divided on the communal lines. This is worrying for the Hindus and Bakkerwal nomadic Muslims have had the history of mutual co-existence. Some twelve-odd Hindu Families have left the village and moved to Kootah as they are being continuously questioned by Crime Branch investigating the matter. People are demanding investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and had called for KathuaBandh on March 3. Before the situation slips out of our hands, we need to handle the issue for conflict entails injustice and leaves societies shattered and the most affected in those conflicts are women and children.
Giving our children the secure social spaces to grow is to be understood and taken as our joint social responsibility. Until and unless we play our part and make our environs more protected, we cannot call ourselves civil in any sense of the word. Everything cannot be left to the State itself; we cannot shun our responsibility as parents, teachers, neighbours, friends and above all, humans.
(The writer teaches Sociology at the University of Jammu and is the State Chairperson for SPIC MACAY)